Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Political Parties Are a Public Nuisance, Part 1

The word is out that “Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have completed a draft report concluding there was no collusion or coordination between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia,” and that “challenges an assessment made after the 2016 election that Russian meddling was an effort to help Trump.” [1] The report will agree, however, “that Russians did meddle in the election” and “will also show a pattern of Russian attacks on European allies….” The announcement was made by Texas Representative Mike Conaway, who led the investigation for the committee.


Representative Mike Conaway
The opposition party, of course, has another view.

“Democrats have criticized Republicans on the committee for shortening the investigation, pointing to multiple contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia and saying they have seen far too few witnesses to make any judgment on collusion. The Democrats and Republicans have openly fought throughout the investigation, with Democrats suggesting a cover-up for a Republican president and one GOP member of the panel calling the probe ‘poison’ for the previously bipartisan panel.

“The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, suggested that by wrapping up the probe the Republicans were protecting Trump. He called the development a ‘tragic milestone’ and said history would judge them harshly.

“Republicans ‘proved unwilling to subpoena documents like phone records, text messages, bank records and other key records so that we might determine the truth about the most significant attack on our democratic institutions in history,’ Schiff said.”

It is possible for different people to look at the same evidence and honestly come to different conclusions. But what is the likelihood that honest evaluations of the same facts would differ coextensively with partisan affiliations?

Representative Adam Schiff
One would be justified in concluding that the illustrious members of our political class are making their “evaluations” based on their perceptions on how the facts will impact the electoral chances of their respective political parties. The same tendency among the partisans of the American citizenry is also to be discerned. In other words, facts don’t matter; the power wielded by political parties matter.

The problem with that approach is that facts have a causal connection with other facts. If there was no collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, or if there was no attempt on the part of Russia to influence the election, then a grossly unjustifiable wedge has been has been driven between the United States government and a significant portion of the American people.  But if there was collusion, a foreign government is now participating in our governance; and if the Russians tried to influence the presidential election in favor of Trump, then our democratic processes have been shown to have a decided vulnerability to foreign disinformation efforts.

With stakes like this, we need leadership that is able to assess the facts objectively. But we can’t have leadership like that because political party loyalty takes priority. And here is the time to quote George Washington:

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

“This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

George Washington
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual, and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-rounded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.” [2]

It cannot be denied that Washington’s concerns have been largely realized; and if we aren’t careful, the despotism he warned about will come to pass. A potential danger to the Republic such as was being investigated by the House Intelligence Committee deserves a better response than partisan wrangling. We need to get a handle on this, and reduce the influence of political parties on government operations as much as possible.